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Non-Review Review: First Reformed

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

First Reformed is an unholy mess.

On paper, First Reformed has some very interesting ideas. It is a film grappling very consciously with weighty themes and heavy subject matter. It is about the challenge of finding faith in a modern and cynical world, and about reconciling the mundane maintenance of spiritual belief with the euphorically elevation of pure devotion. This is a broad theme that resonates in a world that feels increasingly disconnected and diffused, in a time when people feel increasingly distant from purpose or meaning.

Indeed, the core premise invites comparisons to Taxi Driver, which remains the defining work in Schrader’s filmography. Schrader has been working as a writer for almost forty-five years, and as a director for forty years, but his body of work is still discussed in terms of the second script that he wrote. Although most audiences associate Taxi Driver with the creative partnership of Scorsese and DeNiro, it was a work that was very important to Schrader, articulating themes and ideas to which he would return time and time again.

First Reformed brings Schrader back to that, with Reverend Ernst Toller feeling very much like a spiritual sibling to Travis Bickle, a man who struggles to make sense and to find meaning in a chaotic world and who decides to impose his own order upon the universe. Schrader is very much playing with his own history and iconography here, playing out a familiar story in a new setting with a slightly different emphasis. As with a lot of artists revisiting their earlier and defining, the results are frustrating. First Reformed bends and contorts in the shadow of its predecessor, never coming into its own.

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Non-Review Review: The Canyons

The Canyons struggles to surmount the weight of productions stories bearing down on it. Paul Schrader’s latest film was famously the subject of a 7,000-word article in the New York Times documenting the trials and tribulations behind the scenes. In a way, these troubles made the film somewhat larger-than-life, turning it into one giant attempt at career resurrection for director Paul Schrader and lead actor Lindsay Lohan.

Given the film’s much publicised sexual content (and the decision to cast pornography actor James Deen in the lead role), there’s a sense that this could be Lohan’s Last Tango in Paris, a bold and blistering performance from a once-respected talent eclipsed by years of behind-the-scenes gossip and idle chatter. Ironically, it’s none of the established talent that impresses with The Canyons. Bret Easton Ellis’ story feels like a shallow pastiche of Ellis-ian touches, while Schrader’s direction is intrusive and overwhelming. Lohan shows flickers of honesty and risk-taking, but is lost in the shuffle and the hum-drum plotting.

In contrast, it’s relative newcomer (as much a man with a filmography containing over 1,000 titles can be a newcomer) James Deen who makes the strongest impression as a surprisingly efficient Ellis-ian protagonist.

thecanyons1

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Non-Review Review: The Comfort of Strangers

Let me tell you something: My father was a very big man. And all his life he wore a black mustache. When it was no longer black, he used a small brush, such as ladies use for their eyes. Mascara.

– Robert

The Comfort of Strangers is… a strange film. I can appreciate what it’s doing (or rather what it is trying to do), but it never quite comes together. Perhaps it’s because the movie seems structured as too much of a thought exercise rather than a finished dramatic production. There’s food for thought here, but there’s really not too much else.

Never wander off with strangers... ESPECIALLY if they're Christopher Walken...

Note: I will be discussing the film’s ending, which is kinda important. But don’t worry, I’ll flag it beforehand. Plus, this film is nearly twenty years old, so I figure it’s fair game.

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